The sweet stuff
Walk into your nearest convenience store and look at all the products there. Probably every one of them has sugar in it. The first people to use it were probably the Polynesians or people in Southeast Asia. The Polynesians lived on islands in the Pacific Ocean. About 5,000 years ago, they discovered that the stalks of a very tall kind of grass were sweet. Today we call that grass sugar cane.
The word 'sugar' is probably very, very old. It does not come from Polynesia, though. At some point sugar made its way to India, probably from Southeast Asia. At that time, people in India spoke Sanskrit. The Sanskrit word for sugar was sharkara. In 510 BC, the Persians invaded India. Sugar was new to them. They called it sharkar.
First steps in a long journey
Before all the people scattered around the world in ancient times found out about sugar, they used honey. In ancient times, a good place to live was called 'a land of milk and honey'. When the Persians discovered sugar, they called it 'the reed that gives honey without bees'. A reed is a tall grass.
Sugar made its next step in conquering the world when Alexander the Great (356 BC-323 BC) began his epic journey to build an empire. Alexander called sugar the 'sacred reed'. Alexander was Greek, so his sacred reed soon made its way to Greece, then to Rome. For the Romans, sugar was a luxury. They even used it as a medicine.
Conquering the world
When sugar reached Rome, it started its long journey around the world to your local convenience store. But in those early days, people could only chew the 'sacred reed' or boil it to make sweet food. Some time between 280 AD and 550 AD in India, the Indians made the big breakthrough. They figured out how to take the sweetness out of sugar cane and turn it into crystals. Sugar, as we know it today, was born.
By the seventh century, the Tang dynasty had heard of sugar and sent a mission to India. The Indians taught the Chinese to make sugar. The Crusaders, who sent soldiers to the Middle East to fight Muslims, discovered sugar there in the late ninth century. By the 14th century, Italy and Spain were producing their own sugar. It was already a huge industry.
A luxury item
Today, we take sugar for granted. In fact, most of us eat too much of it. It makes us fat, rots our teeth, and gives some people diabetes. Nobody today would call it the sacred reed - no matter how much they love chocolate. But for a long time it was a luxury item. When sugar first went onto the market in Britain in the 14th century, it cost the equivalent of nearly HK$600 for 500 grams.
Perhaps, we would all be better off if that is what it cost today.
now do this
1 The word for 'sugar' comes from ...
2 Sugar made its way from India to the rest of the world ...
a. via Alexander the Great
b. via the Romans
c. via Persia
3 Crystallised sugar was invented by the ...
1. a 2. c 3. b